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Posts tagged ‘Short Stories’

S is for… short story markets

If you’re writing short stories, sooner or later you’re going to want to submit them somewhere for publication. There are a great many short story markets that pay anything from a copy of the publication, through token payments, to semi-professional and professional rates.

I tend to submit to the professional rate publications first of all, because why aim low? It can be hit or miss (and you’ll miss more than you hit to start off with), but it’s good practice and if you strike out with the pros, you can still try to sell to the semi-pros, and so on.

Where to start? Well, it depends on the genre. There are a couple of databases out there, where you can search markets based on genre, pay level, story length (is it flash, short story, novella, etc?).

Duotrope is one of these. They list over 7000 publishers and agents, and cover all genres, as well as forms. This is a paid service, so after a week’s trial it will cost you $5 per month (or less if you take out a year’s subscription). If you’re a prolific writer and are constantly looking for the right market for your stories, it’s well worth it for all you get in return.

If you’re a sporadic short story writer, like me – I spend more time working on my novel-length fiction than I do writing short stories – then something like The Submission Grinder

might be more your style.  Their database is free of charge to use, as is their submission tracker where you can keep an record where you’ve sent each story, and avoid embarrassing mistakes like sending the same story to the same market twice. I may or may not have done this, once.

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Cripi on Pixabay

So, you’ve found a market, based on the genre and length of your story, you’ve prepared your manuscript using standard manuscript format, and their submission guidelines for any specifics. The next thing you need to check is whether they accept simultaneous submissions. If they do, you’re good to send your story to another venue at the same time. If they don’t, then you’ll need to wait for a response before sending it elsewhere. You can, of course, ignore their guidelines and send the story to several venues at once, but if more than one editor wants to buy the story you have a dilemma, and one of them is likely to be upset if they specified ‘no simultaneous submissions’ and you ignored their submission guidelines.

Some venues will also accept reprints. If they don’t accept reprints, then you can only send them stories that have not been previously published elsewhere. If they do accept reprints, it’s likely that they will pay less than the original market, but hey, you get to sell the story twice, so it might be worth your while. Do be careful that the rights have reverted to you. For example, if you signed a contract for a publication to have sole rights to publish your story for a year, then you can’t sell it elsewhere until the year is up. If you do, you would be in breach of contract.

There are some markets that don’t pay more than a copy of the publication. And that’s fine. If you have exhausted paying markets but still want to try to put your story out there, non-paying markets are worth a try and can be more newbie-friendly. It’s still worth trying the paying markets first, though. What do you have to lose, other than time?

Some markets respond within a few days. Clarkesworld is the fastest I’ve seen, with responses in days, rather than weeks. Others have response times measured in months. Others still, are only open at certain times, so make sure you check that they’re open before submitting.

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Paulracko on Pixabay

There are some venues out there that charge a reading fee for submissions. My advice for those would be to avoid them. It’s difficult enough trying to make money out of short story writing, without having to pay an editor to read your work.

My only exception about paying to submit would be for competitions and, even then, it’s worth checking out whether a competition is reputable before entering. Some good ones are The Manchester Fiction Prize. This costs £17.50 to enter but the prize is £10,000. It’s run by Manchester Metropolitan University and is very reputable. The Costa Short Story Award is free to enter and the first prize is £3,000, The Reader’s Digest 100-word story competition is also free to enter and the first prize is £2,000 (which works out at £20 a word!), and last but certainly not least, Mslexia’s competition has a £10 entry fee and a first prize of £5,000, as well as a week’s writing retreat and a day with an editor.

There is a listing of short story competitions here (as well as a sign-up for a newsletter that will remind you of deadlines).

So what are you waiting for? Get those stories submitted!

 

 

P is for … pen and paper!

I began a little experiment a while ago, which I wrote about on Medium. In my day job as a PA, I attend a lot of meetings and take minutes (17 a month!). I’d been using a laptop to take notes, to save time having to transcribe later, and I noticed that – while I was able to capture a great deal of the conversation – when I came to edit the minutes, I found it difficult to remember who said what and in what context. This is because I wasn’t actively listening to the conversation. I was hearing it, but rather than processing what was said, I was simply acting as a conduit for the words to reach the keyboard.

After realising this, I started taking pen and paper into the meetings and writing up the notes afterwards. It takes a little longer, but I’m able to recall the conversation while I’m transcribing onto the computer, and everything makes so much more sense. Of course, it still needs the meeting Chair to keep the conversation focused, and for my colleagues to be clear on what they’re discussing and not assume I can read their minds on conversations that took place outside the meeting, but on the whole I’m confident it has been a success.

20180722_200304As a result, I’ve also taken to writing first drafts of my fiction by hand in a notebook. I’m using a fountain pen too, because it makes me write more slowly and gives me time to think (and encourages me to write neatly, so that I can understand what I’ve written when it’s time to transcribe!). After doing this for several weeks, I can honestly say that it’s been a revelation. Over those weeks, I’ve written more than I had in months. Not only have I spurred ahead on my rewrite of The Lost Weaver, I also have four new short stories out on submission, and another in the works.

 

I think the reasons for this are twofold:

  • With pen and paper, I’m far less likely to fall down a rabbit-hole on the Internet
  • There’s something about writing by hand that acts as a catalyst to my creativity

Whatever the reason, I’m loving it.

20180722_201116.jpgI’ve also developed a mild obsession with fountain pens. Being a lefty (handed as well as politically), I always had a hard time with fountain pens in my youth. Because we lefties push the pen across the page instead of pulling, I would always end up mangling the nibs. I’m still disappointed in the lack of pens made for left-handed people: the only affordable brand I can find is the German manufacturer, Lamy. Lamy pens are great (the one on the right is a Lamy Nexx with a left-handed nib); however, I’ve also learned that – as a lefty – I can get away with using a regular fountain pen as long as the nib is a medium (the one on the left is a Cross Bailey with regular medium nib).  I have a couple of Cross pens, both of which write nicely, and I have my eye on this blue Conklin Durograph, just because it’s so pretty and because I’d like to see how it writes.

Another mild obsession is sparkly fountain pen ink. I’ve been trying out some of the different Diamine colours, and my favourites at the moment are Arabian Nights and Lilac Satin. I think I might try the Arctic Blue next.

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I carry my notebooks everywhere and write whenever I get an opportunity, which has also helped increase my word count. With the recent hot weather, I’ve been sitting in the air conditioned bliss of our local Costa to wait for my husband to pick me up in the evenings, instead of fighting to get on a hot crowded bus. Sometimes I have to wait an hour, but that’s an hour with an iced coffee and my notebook. No wonder my word count has increased!

 

 

O is for … “Oh no, whose bright idea was it to use the alphabet for a weekly blog series?

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Image free on Pixabay by phtorxp

Some weeks, I look up what letter I’m supposed to be writing a post about and wonder why  I thought it would be a good idea to write a weekly writing blog based on an A-Z.

This is one of those weeks.

There aren’t that many writing-related subjects beginning with O.

I thought of ‘onomatopoeia but wondered just how much I could write about words that describe the sound of what they name (bang, cuckoo, splash, slap, rustle, etc).

Or I could write something about oxymorons, where the meanings of a phrase contradict each other (deafening silence, open secret, honest thief, etc.).

In the end, I settled on outlines.

I use outlines.

There, I said it (waits for my pantser friends to stop walking by with protest signs saying, ‘down with this sort of thing,’ against the constraints of outlines).

When I first started writing, I didn’t use outlines at all. I would sit down and write whatever came into my head. It felt wonderful and liberating, but after a while I would run out of ideas, or write myself into a corner, or get totally off-track and lost. Before I started outlining, I never managed to get a novel past about 40,000 words before one of those things happened.

When I talk about outlining, I’m not talking about plotting out every little bit of a story before sitting down to write it.  That would be far too time consuming, and would take the thrill of discovery-writing away. No, I start with the concept of a story and ask myself these questions:

  • How does it start?
  • How does it end?

Once I know these two things, I sit and think about what has to happen for my character to get from the first point, to the last. This is usually a series of steps, and I use these for my chapter outline.

And that’s about it. I use my characters to get me from one step to the next, writing freely. Sometimes, my free-writing will reveal something that wasn’t in the original outline. At that point, I’ll decide whether it’s something I want to keep, and if I do, I’ll alter the outline to accomodate the new plot point, or character.

For example, in The Lost Weaver, I wanted a minor antagonist to make Kestrel’s life more difficult as she tries to fulfil her plot-line. So, I wrote in a fellow bounty-hunter who had a vendetta against her, and who interfered with her business at every opportunity. However, as anyone who’s beta-read the novel will tell you, he becomes so much more than just a pain in her neck (no, he’s not a romantic interest either). This was something that revealed itself as I wrote the novel, and I liked it so much I went back and reworked the plot to give him more prominence, and to foreshadow what happens, so that it doesn’t come as a total surprise to the reader.

I’ve also started outlining short stories as well. Instead of just writing the story and having it turn into a non-story, I’ll brainstorm in my notebook on what I want the shape of the story to be, and then I’ll start to write it. Again, this doesn’t mean that the story is set in stone – it just means it has a little structure to start with. If it doesn’t work, I can change it as I go, but having a goal to work towards helps me keep going.

Outlining has been a life-saver for a procrastinator like me. It helps me to stay on track and finish a piece of work. I know it’s not for everyone, but for someone who’s easily distracted, has helped me a great deal.

What’s your favourite way of writing? Are you an outliner or a pantser, or – like me – do you use both to your advantage?

M is for … Manuscript Format

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I’m a day late updating the blog this week.  An idea for a story caught hold of me and wouldn’t leave me alone all weekend until I had completed the first draft.  It’s rare that they come to me like that, so I had to comply. It’s quite a long story, and has themes of motherhood and empowerment, along with strong mythological influences. It still needs a lot of work before Ican start sending it out on submission, but I’m pleased with the shape it has taken.

Which brings me to this week’s subject: how to prepare your writing for submission to publications, agents or publishers. While most have their own submission guidelines, they will nearly always ask for submissions to be in standard manuscript format.

So, what is that?

If you google the subject, you’ll find lots of answers to that question, including William Shunn’s excellent advice, which hasn’t much changed.  But you won’t go far wrong if you use at least the following:

  • Standard font: Arial, Times New Roman, Courier, etc, set at 12 pt.
  • A4 size paper (letter in the US)
  • Double line spacing.
  • 2.5 cm (1 inch) margins all round.

UK First Page

 

If you’re in the UK, you’ll need a cover page, with your name, address and contact details in the top left corner and the word count in the top right.  In the middle of the page, you’ll want the title of your story, and underneath, your name, or nom de plume.

 

 

 

 

 

US First Page

 

If you’re in the US, you’ll need all that on the top half of the page, and start your story half way down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the top of every page after the first or cover page, you’ll need to have your last name, the title and the page number:

MS Format - Top of page

This is so that if any pages come loose, they can be matched up to the right manuscript. On a UK manuscript, this would start on page 1 because the cover page is not counted. On a US manuscript, this would be page 2 as the story starts halfway down the first page.

If a publication calls for blind submissions, it means they don’t want any information that reveals your identity. Some do this because then they are not biased by the writer and can judge the story on its merits. When submitting blind, you still use standard manuscript format, but your submission will only have the word count, title and page numbers from the above examples, and none of the identifying information.

It used to be the case that two spaces were required after a full stop (period), but most places these days will ask for one. As someone who learned to type when two spaces were the norm, I find it difficult to train my thumb to hit the spacebar only once so I don’t try.  Instead, when I’m editing, I use ‘find and replace’ to change all the double spaces to single ones.

There was also a rule that italics must be underlined, but these days most places will accept manuscripts wth italics. It’s always best to check their submission guidelines to make sure, though.

First line

 

 

Paragraphs should always be set so that the first line  is a half inch, or 1.27 centimeters indented. In Word, you can set the formatting to do this automatically every time you hit the enter key.

 

 

 

I can’t stress enough that you should always read the submission guidelines. It will save your story from being rejected without being read. It might still get rejected (I’ve had far more rejections than acceptances), but at least you’ve given it every chance to succeed.

If you haven’t submitted before, I hope this helps. Now get those stories out there!

 

 

H is for Hook

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It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction, journalism, marketing copy, or an essay; if you want to claim your reader’s attention, you need a hook. The hook is what makes the reader want to continue reading and comes within the opening paragraph.

Since I mostly write fiction, I’ll be concentrating on that, but hopefully this will be helpful for writers in all fields.

Think of all the stories you’ve read, whether they’re novels or short stories. What makes you continue past that first paragraph? For me, it’s the promise made that this is going to be something I will enjoy reading. The author doesn’t always follow through (I’ve stopped reading novels and stories that had great openings because they didn’t fulfil that promise), but for the most part I can usually tell that this is going to be my kind of read from what’s in that first paragraph, or even in the opening line.

We see lots of advice on not to use certain things for openings because they have been done so often they become cliché: someone looking in a mirror, the weather, someone talking, someone waking up. And yet, a good writer can take these clichés over-done openings and make them into something new and original. Here are some examples below:

“Polly cut off her hair in front of the mirror, feeling slightly guilty about not feeling very guilty about doing so.”  – Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett.

monstrousThis is the opening to one of my all time favourite novels. Polly Perks is cutting off her hair, so she can pretend to be a boy and join the army to look for her lost brother. When people use mirrors, they tend to do so to describe the character’s appearance, which is a cliché, but in this case, Pratchett used it to show us something about Polly’s character rather than her appearance. Cutting her hair off is something she is expected to feel guilty about, so we can tell immediately that she’s in a world where society believes women and girls should have long hair. The fact that she doesn’t feel guilty enough tells us that she’s independent and can think for herself. I’m immediately interested in Polly.

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer, William Gibson.

neuromancer

 

I like this opening because it gives me a sense of something being not quite right. The language is stark, and the image is foreboding. It’s also unusual as far as a weather description goes. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a sky that colour before, so perhaps it’s somewhere other than earth? I’m pulled in to read further so that I can find out more about this place.

 

“A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.” – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick

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This opening has someone waking up but it’s the mood organ that makes me want to read on because I immediately know we’re either not in this world, or if we are it’s somewhere in an imagined future.

 

 

“They’re made out of meat.” – Terry Bisson

“They’re Made out of Meat”  is one of my favourite short stories. Not only does it open with dialogue, but the whole story is a conversation between two disembodied voices. There is no narrative, no description, no action, just dialogue. Everything about this story is a literary ‘no-no’, and yet it works perfectly.

Of course, these are all notable exceptions. I’m not saying that we should all go out and ignore the advice on not using cliched openings. These are examples of what a skilled writer can do with something that is considered a cliché.

A good opening line or paragraph sets an expectation of who or what the novel, story, article or essay will be about. It also sets the tone of the piece of writing, whether that be matter of fact, foreboding, humorous, etc. In speculative fiction, it also often gives us a glimpse into another world.

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” Old Man’s War –  John Scalzi

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This opening starts off normal enough for a seventy-five-year-old man. Then boom, Scalzi turns that impression upside down and we’re immediately asking ourselves questions because joining the army is probably the last thing we’d expect a man that age to do.

 

 

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.” Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

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I love this opening. If you know anything about the galaxy or solar system, you immediately know that this is earth we’re talking about here. There’s a self-deprecating humour in the way it’s written that is so English and so endearing that I immediately want to read on.

 

 

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

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This one is so matter-of-factly talking about something so odd that it is an immediate draw. There’s no sense of panic, no terror, which creates a kind of morbid fascination. Just what has happened to Gregor? We need to know.

 

 

I’ve often found that I don’t know the opening line until I’ve written the whole story. I start at the beginning, of course, but it’s mostly just a placeholder until I’ve written the whole thing and know how it ends. Then, when I’m going back to edit, I look at the opening and fiddle with it until it becomes the hook I need for that particular story.

What was the most memorable opening line you remember reading? Or better still, give me an example of an opening line of your own. Here’s one of mine to leave you with:

“Whispers flitted across his mind. Distant voices murmuring words he could not quite grasp; like moth wings, they brushed memories he had tried for so long to forget, wafting loose the shrouds he had wrapped around them over so many years with so many empty wine-skins.”  The Lost Weaver